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The Pioneer Historian: Kenneth Onwuka Dike (1917-1983)

Image of Kenneth Onwuka Dike

Professor Kenneth Onwuka Dike (December 17,  1917-October 26, 1983), B.A., M.A., PhD.,Hon. LLD, Hon. D.Litt., Hon. D.Sc., Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African History, Harvard University, was the first indigenous Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan and roaming Ambassador of Biafra to Côte d’Ivoire.

Professor Kenneth Onwuka Dike (December 17, 1917-October 26, 1983)
Professor Kenneth Onwuka Dike (December 17, 1917-October 26, 1983)

Early Life and Education

“The Pioneer Historian”, Kenneth Onwuka Dike was born in Awka, present day, Anambra State, Nigeria, on December, 17, 1917. He was the third son of Nzekwe Dike, an itinerant medicine-man and trader. He lost his father in 1922, at the age of four, and his mother, Nwudu Dike, a year later.

Thus, young Kenneth became an orphan at an early age and was raised by his grandfather, Dike Nwancho, assisted his elder brother, George Dike, who was born in 1909.

In 1923, Dike was apprenticed to an itinerant medicine-man who operated between Awka and the commercial city of Onitsha. He started his primary education at Government School Awka and then his secondary education at Government College Awka. In 1933, he enrolled at the prestigious Dennis Memorial Grammar School, DMGS, Onitsha, Nigeria.

After three years at DMGS, Dike spent another two years at Achimota College in the Gold Coast, present day, Ghana. From Achimota, he moved to Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone. At the time, Fourah Bay was affiliated to and awarding degrees of Durham University. This meant that through Fourah Bay, Dike took the B.A. (in English, Geography and Latin) of Durham University.

In 1943, he returned home to Nigeria but didn’t stay long. In November 1944, Dike left on a British Council Scholarship for the M.A. degree in History at University of Aberdeen. In June 1947 he graduated, bagging first-class honours (the best of his year) at Aberdeen.

Four months later, Dike registered for his PhD at King’s College, University of London. Under the supervision of Vincent Harlow and Gerald S. Graham, he did a dissertation entitled “Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, 1830-1879.” He earned his PhD degree on July 28, 1950. With it he became the first African to “pass through professional training” in Western historical scholarship.


The 1950s proved to have been Dike’s most productive scholarly years—preceding his university administrative career and later political activity in the interest of an independent Biafra.

In 1953, his Report on The Preservation and Administration of Historical Records in Nigeria was published. This work had to do with setting up the Nigerian National Archives which he later served as director. In this same documentation and preservation vein, Dike served for a time as well as chair of the Nigerian Antiquities Commission. Then in 1957 A Hundred Years of British Rule in Nigeria appeared, followed in 1958 by The Origins of the Niger Mission.

From 1963 until late 1966 Dike was Vice Chancellor at Ibadan—i.e., he was that university’s chief administrative officer. Prior to assuming that post he had been director of the Institute of African Studies at Ibadan in addition to being director of the National Archives. His combined administrative/academic skills also led to his appointment as chair of the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

Image of Kenneth Dike, First Vice Chancellor University of Ibadan
Professor Kenneth Dike and Prime Minister Alhaji (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa at the University of Ibadan main campus for the inauguration of Dike as the first indigenous Vice Chancellor of the university, 1963.

His resignation as UI’s Vice Chancellor came in December 1966.

As an Igbo and an Easterner, his role as a head university administrator in Western Nigeria became untenable. A long struggle to keep his position was lost to a Yoruba opponent, and Dike made the critical decision at that point to opt for “a new life in an independent Eastern state”.

Dike joined his fellow Igbo people in Eastern Nigeria who were seeking secession and to form a separate nation. This new nation was to be called Biafra, named for the Bight of Biafra at the mouth of the Niger River. The name of this body of water separating the eastern and western parts of Nigeria has since been erased from maps of the reunified nation.

From Ibadan, Dike went home to become Biafra’s roving ambassador. He acted in this capacity from 1967 to 1970, travelling extensively and speaking out on behalf of the Biafran position in the civil conflict.

Professor Kenneth Onwuka Dike was the first to draw the attention of the international community to the fascinating outlines of a viable African epistemology instead of venturing into European history. As indicated above, Dike, despite all odds, successfully carried out his doctoral dissertation, Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, 1830 – 1885 later published in 1956 by the Oxford University as Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, 1830 –1885: An Introduction to the Economic and Political History in Nigeria.

By 1968, Dike’s position with regard to Biafra had become unshakable. Prior to that time, Eastern Nigerian attempts to achieve a loose confederation with the West had his support. These overtures, however, had been rebuffed by the West. As a result, Dike felt that “after so much sacrifice we are not prepared to go back….” Biafra’s eventual and necessary unconditional surrender was certainly a blow to this determined intellectual. Still, during the final days of the secession effort he served as Biafra’s representative at cease-fire negotiations in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

During the postwar years, in the 1970s, Dike went into exile and took up an academic position at Harvard University in the United States. At Harvard, from 1971 to 1973, he was chair of the Committee on African Studies. Then in 1973, he was appointed the first Mellon Professor of African History at Harvard. He continued to teach there until 1978, when he found it possible to return to Nigeria.

Family and Death

Back in Nigeria, he again went into administrative work, this time as president of Anambra State University. Anambra was located in Enugu in the Eastern part of the reunited nation North-East of his birthplace, Awka.

Dike was accompanied by his wife Ona when he returned to Nigeria. He died in an Enugu hospital on October 26, 1983. He was 65. At the time of his death, one daughter, Nneka, and one son, Emeka, lived in Nigeria’s capital city, Lagos, on the Western coast. Three other children (two daughters, Chinwe and Ona, and one son, Obi) remained in the United States, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Professor Kenneth Onwuka Dike was the first to draw the attention of the international community to the fascinating outlines of a viable African epistemology instead of venturing into European history. As indicated above, Dike, despite all odds, successfully carried out his doctoral dissertation, Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, 1830 – 1885 later published in 1956 by the Oxford University as Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, 1830 –1885: An Introduction to the Economic and Political History in Nigeria.

Though the book made an immediate international impact as marking a new beginning in the historiography of Africa, it greatly stimulated and inspired new generation of practitioners of African history to make vigorous researches using various ways, views and methods. Many African scholars went further to investigate Africa and African history, cultures and affairs other than theirs.

Image of Kenneth and Ona Dike
Kenneth Dike, with his wife, Ona, on receiving the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, July 8, 1961.

Dike also created enduring foundations which gave impetus to an African initiative or Africa – centered perspective when he mooted for the establishment of Department of History in the University College Ibadan. He, therefore, used the Department of History to sow and water the seed of African epistemology.

The History Department soon became “a centre of excellence in African historiography in the world“.

In fact, at a point, “The History Department of Ibadan had no less than four full professors, and began to supply staff including Vice Chancellors, to other universities”.

At this juncture, it would be worthwhile to recall that the late Professor Kenneth Onwuka Dike was the first African head of History at the University of Ibadan, and the first Indigenous Principal of the University College Ibadan and later the pioneer Vice-Chancellor of University of Ibadan.

READ ALSO: How UNILAG’s Vice Chancellor was nearly killed in 1965

The efforts of Dike would be better appreciated if we remembered that Ibadan was still under the control of imperial London and its curriculum was stocked with European and English History as well as British Colonial History. Dike’s idea of “African first” created new generation of African historians who through the rigorous inquiry projected the “glorious Africa” internationally with pride and satisfaction.

Another remarkable contribution of Professor K.O.Dike to African epistemology with great emphasis on African initiative or African centred perspective was the establishment of the Historical Society of Nigeria (HSN) in 1955 purposely “to consolidate the gains envisaged from the training and research at Ibadan”.

The Historical Society of Nigeria (HSN) thus became the first and now the oldest academic professional body in Nigeria which produced most of the early practitioners of History who became professors, administrators, heads of institutions, and contributors to national development. Prominent among them are Jacob Ade-Ajayi (1929-2014), Isaac Okonjo, C.C. Ifemesia, Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa (b.1933), Tekena Nitonye Tamuno (1932-2015), J.C. Anene, Emmanuel Ayandele (1936-2014), Obaro Ikime (b.1936), Adiele E. Afigbo (1937-2009) and S.J.S. Cookey (b.1934).



Awortu B.E, Uebari Samuel (2015). African Intellectual Revolution In the 20th Century: A Review of Kenneth Onwuka Dike’s Contributions to African History. International Journal of African and Asian Studies. ISSN 2409-6938.


Chuku, Gloria (2013). The Igbo Intellectual Tradition, pg. 137-164.

Nigeria’s First Goalkeeper: Sam Henshaw Ibiam, the Black Magnet

Image of Sam Ibiam, the Black Magnet

Sam Henshaw Ibiam (April 4, 1925—December 2, 2015), popularly known as “The Black Magnet” during his playing days, was a Nigerian footballer who played as a goalkeeper for the pioneer Nigerian national football team who were regarded to as the “1949 UK Tourists“.

Ibiam, born in Ebonyi in 1925, came to limelight after featuring for the Port Harcourt XI team that got to the semi-finals of the old Governor’s Cup from 1947 to 1949. His heroics lead to his call-up to represent Nigeria in the tour of the United Kingdom in 1949.

Image of Sam Henshaw Ibiam
Sam Henshaw Ibiam (1925-2016), Nigeria’s First Goalkeeper (1949-1958)/GettyImages.

The 24-year-old, also known as “The Cat”, alongside 17 other players, boarded the RMS Apapa for Nigeria’s first venture abroad on August 16, 1949. He was Nigeria’s goalkeeper from the country’s first international match against Sierra Leone on October 8, 1949. Nigeria won the match 2-0, Ibiam’s first proper international cap, where he kept a clean sheet by failing to concede.

Sam Henshaw Ibiam had a unique goalkeeping record. He did not concede a single goal in eight years of the nine years he represented Nigeria and in all his nine years with the team, he conceded just five goals, which he did against one team- Ghana.

He did not play in Nigeria’s next international game two years later when the Jalco Cup competition was introduced between Nigeria and Gold Coast (now Ghana).

However, Ibiam returned to the national team in a 1-0 defeat of Togo in a friendly match on October 6, 1956. He still kept a clean sheet. His next match was against Gold Coast in the annual Jalco Cup competition where Nigeria won 3-0: another clean sheet for the shotstopper.

Image of the Nigerian national team without boots.
The Nigerian national team, UK Tourists, without boots, 1949. The team was known at the time as the “Red Devils” due to their red shirts/Wikipedia.

Sam Henshaw Ibiam had a unique goalkeeping record. He did not concede a single goal in eight years of the nine years he represented Nigeria and in all his nine years with the team, he conceded just five goals, which he did against one team- Ghana.

He conceded his first international goal in eight years when Nigeria drew 3-3 with Ghana in an October 27, 1957 match in Accra. Remarkably, that was the first time Ghana failed to win Nigeria in Accra. The following year, Ibiam had his last international appearance when Nigeria beat Ghana 3-2 in Lagos to win the Jalco Cup for the last time.

Consequently, he retired from international football in 1958.

However, Ibiam continued in club football when he joined the Onitsha Redoubtable, a club put together by Justice Chuba Ikpeazu who later became the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) chairman in 1965/66 and 1988/89.

In recognition for his achievements, Sam Ibiam was awarded a trophy at the “First National Sports Award for Sports Heroes and Heroines of Yesteryear” in 1987.

Ibiam died on December 2, 2015 at his residence in Unwana, Afikpo, Ebonyi State, Nigeria, after a protracted illness. Though he suffered neglect in his last years, he lived to be 90.

Sadly, officials of Nigeria’s Sports Ministry and the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) were absent and failed to send representatives during the burial of the national team’s very first goalkeeper in April, 2016.

Mallam Aminu Kano: Once Upon a Radical


When Mallam Aminu Kano tendered his resignation letter from the services of the colonial government to go into full-time politics, he wrote: ‘’I have seen light in the far horizon. I intend to match into its full circle, either alone or with anyone who cares to come with me.”

From then on, he never looked back; he plunged into politics until he died on April 17, 1983. Unlike other traditional politicians, Aminu Kano did not enter politics to get power by all means. He went into politics with a strong vision and a well-articulated goal.

Early Life and Education

Aminu Kano was born into the family of the Islamic scholar, Mallam Yusuf, of the scholarly Gyanawa Fulani tribe, who was a mufti at the Alkali court in Kano around the year 1920.

Mallam Aminu Kano (1920-1983).

He attended Katsina College and then went to the Institute of Education at the University of London, along with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. After completing his studies at Katsina College, he received his teaching certificate and subsequently became a teacher; he started teaching at Bauchi Training College.

The politics of Mallam Aminu Kano

Aminu Kano co-founded the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) as a political forum to counter what he saw as the autocratic and oppressive actions of the Native Northern Government. He focused his attack on the ruling class, including the emirs, who were mostly Fulanis.

The influence of his platform was enhanced partly because of its history. His father was an acting Alkali in Kano who came from a family of Islamic clerics, and Aminu Kano even introduced Islamic ideas about justice in his campaign trails in the First Republic.

Many Talakawas (commoners) in Kano lined up behind his post and his political popularity grew from the support of the Kano commoners and the migrating petty traders in the north.

Mallam Bello Ijumu, Secretary-General of the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) in a chat with Mallam Aminu Kano, Leader of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), 1956.

One emir in the north said that the key problem created by Mallam Aminu for the traditional institution was that “he taught the common people how to say ‘no’” He also organised the people to know their rights and to stand up for these rights.

Aminu Kano’s contributions to Nigeria

Mallam Aminu, along with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Mallam Yahaya Gusau, and Chief Joseph S. Tarka, was in General Yakubu Gowon‘s cabinet during the Civil War (1967-1970). In fact, he was in charge of the war procurements, in addition to being the Federal Commissioner for Health and Communications at various times in that military government.

When he went to Sudan and saw how Islamic schools were incorporated into modern education, he came to Kano to set up the first model of Islamiyya school. His greatest concern in his life was how to get everyone informed and successful. Mallam Aminu was a visionary who was well ahead of his time.

Death and Legacy

At the time of his unexpected death on April 17, 1983, at the age of 63, Mallam Aminu Kano left behind only one house, which is now a research centre of Bayero University, Kano; one wife, Hajia Aishatu, one daughter, Hajiya Maryam; one radio, one television, and one farmland.

The Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, North-West Nigeria, is the first airport in Nigeria.

He was an accomplished politician, a brilliant scholar and teacher, an accomplished administrator, a champion of the emancipation of women, a nationalist, a patriot and, above all, an activist who lived and died for social justice and for the protection and preservation of the fundamental rights of the common people.

As a matter of fact, on page 63 of his book, The Trouble With Nigeria, Professor Chinua Achebe wrote in 1983 that “Nigeria cannot be the same again because Aminu Kano once lived here.”

The Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, and the Aminu Kano College of Islamic and Legal Studies, all in Kano, are named after him.

You can also follow me on Twitter @AmazingAyo.


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Margaret Ekpo: A Defender of Women’s Rights


Teacher, politician, and activist, Margaret Ekpo (July 27, 1914 – September 21, 2006) was born on in an era when a very young Nigerian nation was under the rule of colonial masters. By the 1950s, when it was clear that Nigeria’s independence was not too far ahead, Ekpo had already become a house-hold name.

With the much respected Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (1900 – 1978), Ekpo routinely toured the country, mobilising women to become politically conscious and participate in the emerging political affiliations in order to protect their interests and ensure the advancement of the nation.

Early Life and Education

Margaret Ekpo was born in Creek Town, Calabar, Cross River State, on July 27, 1914, into the family of Inyang Eyo Aniemewue from the Royal stock of King Eyo Honesty II and Okoroafor Obiasulor native of Agulu-Uzo-Igbo near Awka in Anambra State.

She reached standard six of the school-leaving certificate in 1934 but she could not further her education to secondary school level because she lost her father in the same year.

Her goal of further education in teachers’ training was also put on hold. So she then started working as a pupil teacher in elementary schools.

Image of Margaret Ekpo
Margaret Aniemewue Ekpo (1914-2006).

In 1946, she had the opportunity to study abroad at what is now Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin Ireland. She earned a diploma in domestic science and on her return to Nigeria she established a Domestic Science and Sewing Institute in Aba.

Marriage and Career

Margaret got married to Dr. John Ekpo in 1938. Her husband was from the Ibibio ethnic group who are predominant in present-day Akwa Ibom State, while Margaret was of Igbo and Efik heritage.

Margaret Ekpo was thrust into politics by chance. In 1945, her late husband, Dr. Ekpo, had taken great exception to the discriminatory practices of the Colonial Administrators of Aba General Hospital. But as a civil servant, he could not attend the meetings organized by Nigerians to protest against these policies but he sent his wife instead.

Margaret Ekpo, who had been listening to her husband’s complaints with quiet indignation, was only too happy to be her husband’s ears and eyes at these meetings.

Soon afterwards, members of a nascent political party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) would address a political rally in Aba, with Margaret Ekpo in attendance.

It was at this rally, after listening to fiery speeches by Herbert Macaulay, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Mazi Mbonu Ojike (of the boycott the boycottables fame) urging Nigerians to claim their Independence from Great Britain, that the fire of political activism was ignited in Margaret Ekpo. She was the only woman at the rally and not a few wondered what a woman was doing there when she should be at home, attending to her family. Margaret Ekpo was undeterred, however. Besides, she had the full support of her husband.


In the 1950s, she joined Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti to protest killings at an Enugu coal mine; the victims were leaders protesting colonial practices at the mine. In 1953, Ekpo was nominated by the NCNC to the regional House of Chiefs, and in 1954 she established the Aba Township Women’s Association.

Image of Ekpo with Onyeka Onwenu
Margaret Ekpo with Onyeka Onwenu in 2004.

As leader of the new market group, she turned it into a political pressure group.

By 1955, women in Aba had outnumbered men voters in a city-wide election. In 1961, she won a seat at the Eastern Regional House of Assembly, a position that allowed her to fight for economic and political issues affecting women, especially in the areas of transportation around major roads leading to markets and rural transportation in general.

Margaret Ekpo was responsible for the formation of the NCNC Women’s Wing, along with the wife of the leader of the party, Mrs. Flora Nnamdi Azikiwe, who became its first president while Margaret Ekpo was the vice president. When Flora Azikiwe became the First Lady in 1960, Margaret Ekpo assumed the presidential post of the women’s wing. As president, she continued to lead the women in campaigns for party candidates across the country, making for quite a formidable campaign team.

After a military coup ended the First Republic in January 1966, she took a less prominent approach to politics.

Margaret Ekpo’s political career finally ended with the commencement of the Nigerian-Biafran war. During the war, she was detained by Biafran authorities for three years. In spite of the long detention, under conditions which could best be described as deprived (at a point she became quite ill for lack of adequate feeding), Margaret Ekpo remained unbowed, unbent, unbroken, and was never bitter.

Image of Margaret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar.
The Margaret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar.

When asked why she was detained in a 2004 interview by journalist, Onyeka Onwenu, she shrugged as she replied: “They never told me, but I guessed it had to do with our agitation for Calabar and Ogoja States to be carved out of the Eastern Nigerian Region. It was a trying time for me; however, I accepted it as a sacrifice I had to make for the unity of Nigeria.”


Margaret Ekpo died on Thursday, September 21, 2006, at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, Calabar, Cross River State, full of years. She was 92.

In 2001, the Calabar International Airport was renamed the Margaret Ekpo International Airport (the only airport to be named after a woman in Africa). A secondary school in Calabar South Local Government was also renamed after her.

You can also follow me on Twitter @AmazingAyo

Further Reading

Margaret Ekpo: Politician, Teacher, Activist…

Margaret Ekpo, pioneering feminism in Nigeria

Stella Attoe, S. O. Jaja (1993): Margaret Ekpo: Lioness in Nigerian Politics.

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